Last month, I attended my first official professional conference. But instead of traveling to a cool city and greeting all the other conference attendees with handshakes and high-fives, we met over Zoom. (Did you know you can do a Zoom high-five?) It is 2020 after all.

Operations Camp (aka Ops Camp) is a two-day conference put on by The Bureau of Digital — a brilliant, supportive community of humans working at and with digitally-focused companies. I had heard amazing feedback from other Bureau “camps”, so I knew I was in for a world of learning.

During those two days, I sat through sessions and discussions with other like-minded people in similar roles. We talked about challenges we’re facing at our companies — what works and what doesn’t and how to do and be better. We traded advice and shared our experiences and got to know how other companies are running.

In the end, I had about 102 light bulb moments, learned at least 29 new things and felt inspired to help make TEN7 even better than it already is (which is already pretty great!). Here are some key takeaways.

There’s Usually no Reason to Reinvent the Wheel

So many companies have tried and failed and failed again — and later succeeded — at processes and tools to help them run their businesses smoothly. This knowledge and learning already exists and will work for most companies of comparable size and structure. Even if we haven’t figured something out ourselves, other people have. And we can do the simple work of connecting with them to find out what works instead of doing the unnecessary work of trying to come up with our own system for the sake of doing something new.

We Should All be Fully Replaceable at All Times

This sounds much worse than it is. I don’t mean that everyone is replaceable and should be afraid for their job security. But rather, that project information should never just live in one person’s brain. Life happens all the time (#2020). We need to take time off, or we don’t have enough time in the day, or any number of things that may take us away from a project. And when this happens, we need to make sure that someone else can step in and get the work done. Project knowledge needs to be fully documented, so that anyone could step in at any time and figure out what’s going on. One way we’ve already made progress on this as a company is by using a centralized support system. Since Ops Camp, we’ve scheduled an hour every Friday to document the projects we’ve been working on during the past week.

Everyone Struggles with Estimating — And That’s Ok

The very nature of estimating is that it’s a guess — based on past experience, based on knowledge of the task at hand. We’re always trying to get better at this, and it turns out we’re not even close to being alone in that. Almost everyone at Ops Camp touched on this subject, and has tried different methods. But ultimately, the consensus was that an estimate is really only an educated guess. A little flexibility is warranted.

We Should Really Get to Know Each Other Better

Sure, we’re coworkers, and we’re not necessarily involved in each other’s lives. But we still spend so much of our time together. We should know more than each other’s names. We should strive to understand each other’s work styles and preferences. We are, after all, human beings in this big world together. The more we know about the way we like to work and live — especially during times of high stress or as a distributed company — the more we can help each other do our best work and be happy. In an effort to do more of this, we’ve scheduled a DISC Assessment workshop (something we’ve done in the past and our CEO, Ivan, even gave this talk on in 2016) to help us kick off the coming new year.

Everyone Naturally Does Things a Little Bit Differently

Different companies have different needs and require different tools. Larger companies need a heavy duty resource planning tool, while smaller companies probably don’t. Some company cultures thrive on employee gatherings, while others prefer to get their work done and go home. And even seemingly similar companies may not require the same “nourishment.” But we can still learn from each other, and that’s the beauty of differences.

Next year, Ops Camp may look different. I hope to attend again, in person. But until then, I’ll continue to think about ways to improve how we operate, and how we can help each other strive to be better.